Life is full of mysteries, and one of them is particularly puzzling. Why do people continue to drink and drive when they know it can lead to serious consequences? Why do so many Australians make such a bad decision in their personal and work lives? The answer is not simple because they are motivated to act irrationally for many reasons. Past scientific research reported that alcohol has an impact on perceptions of what constitutes risky behaviours. However, the studies were conducted on people who were not drinking. A new study not only confirms the past studies, but has even more validity because it compares perceptions whilst drinking to perceptions whilst sober.
Misperceptions Lead to Bad Decisions
In the upcoming publication of the 2014 journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the studies will show that people deciding to drive whilst inebriated are influenced by the alcohol in the area of decision-making. They have poor judgment, less self-control and make different decisions than they would whilst sober.1 The person who drinks and drives may know and recognise the dangers of this combination whilst sober, and even talk about how important it is to not drink and drive. Yet, many of these same people will down a few drinks or sneak alcohol at work and then drive. Though it would seem to make common sense that a person who is drunk would make poor decisions, prior studies have not concentrated on proving the inebriated person is actually makes different decisions than they would make if sober.
There are several implications of this study. For example, if public service messages target sober people, are they really effective? How effective is the traditional employer education program on alcohol use in the workplace? These are the important questions being asked. The researchers point out that people who reach their peak BAC and then experience a declining BAC may decide it is safe to drive. When employers have workplace parties and encourage drinking, it would seem they are also contributing to the process of poor decision-making that goes on when a person is not sober. The only conclusion so far from this new study is that people need the skills and awareness to apply knowledge about drinking and driving, even whilst alcohol impaired. This would suggest that workplace education programs that reinforce good decision-making on the use of drugs and alcohol certainly are important.
Cannot Predict Poor Decision-Making
Drink Wise pointed out in a response to a call for comments by National Drug Strategy 2010-2015 Consultation that alcohol is responsible for more road accidents than any other factor in Australia. One out of every four fatal accidents involves drivers or passengers who exceed the legal BAC limit.2 It is important for the researchers to continue their studies on driving and drinking. However, it is just as important that employers remain diligent in their efforts to educate workers on the dangers. They must continue doing drug and alcohol testing in the workplace because there is simply no way to predict who will be the person to make the wrong decision.
Mediscreen (mediscreen.net.au) provides quality screening services that contribute to drug and alcohol testing programs credibility. Employers should only use reliable, quality testing equipment and services to reinforce the importance of their effort.
1. David H. Morris, Hayley R. Treloar, Maria E. Niculete, Denis M. McCarthy. Perceived Danger While Intoxicated Uniquely Contributes to Driving After Drinking. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2013; DOI:10.1111/acer.12252
2. Cath Peachey. (2010, December). DrinkWiseAustralia ( letter to National Drug Strategy in response to public consultation). Retrieved from National Drug Strategy 2010-2015 Consultation: http://bit.ly/17rPska